Sunday, August 31, 2008

Haddam Neck Fair

Many of the towns around Middletown have thriving Fairs, reflecting and promoting their agricultural traditions. While the most famous is in Durham at the end of September, other town fairs also provide great education and entertainment for all of us folks from the big city of Middletown. Haddam Neck is a wonderful community of grand old homes and horse pastures dating back to the heyday of the Connecticut River quarries and shipping. They hold their annual Fair on Labor Day weekend every year, this year is the 97th annual. I went on Saturday, impelled by my 12-year old daughter's desperate desire to see the goat judging at 11:00. I found the fair to share many of the features that we have always enjoyed at the Durham Fair, but at a far more relaxing scale.

Admission is a very reasonable $7 per adult (children 12 and under free), and the food prices are reasonable as well. At this fair there is enough to entertain the entire family for the day, but not so much that it becomes an exhausting ordeal to make sure you've seen everything ("Daddy, Daddy, we forgot to see the giant pumpkins, we have to go back up that hill and into the building around the corner from the turnip displays.") The vegetable and baking competitions (my favorite part of any fair) are big enough to showcase great produce and pies but not so huge and crowded to lose sight of individual creations.

The goat barn was a beehive of activity as 4-legged creatures and their proud and anxious owners got ready for the judging. Surly teenagers, screaming children, and scolding parents were nowhere to be seen. Instead, children from ages 3 to 18 worked diligently trimming hooves, shaving udders and washing tails. The farm animal events seem to bring out a kind of serious and dedicated fun that crosses all generations, as it involves people in a shared purpose that anybody from 2 to 102 can share.

The fair continues Monday, the schedule of events and directions to get there are here. The highlights today include a Working Cattle Show, an Oxen Pull, and a Baby Show at 3:ooPM.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Westfield Falls

One of Connecticut’s most beautiful waterfalls is a little-known gem right here in Middletown. Westfield Falls is visible from I91 North between exits 20 and 21 (although you have to look carefully). To access it on foot, go to the sharp curve in Miner Street, where there is a parking spot next to a nice picnic area. Hike down the trail leading from the picnic area. The falls are straight ahead. To get to the bottom of the falls you can take a small trail leading off to the left from the parking area
The falls has a height of 26 feet, and consists of an upper and a lower section. Westfield Falls is part of same stream that crosses Country Club Road near Smith Park. This stream, called Fall Brook, goes underneath I91 and eventually joins with the Mattabesset River.

Gangs in Town?

I was half listening to the TV this morning and heard something about a stabbing in Middletown so I went on line and found a very short piece in the Middletown Press and I just read on  that there were several stabbings in Middletown last night.   One man was severely injured and found about 8 p.m. on the corner of Church and Hubbard and three others showed up in the Middlesex emergency room.  The TV announcer reported that the Middletown police were investigating if these incidences were related to each other and if they were gang related? 

When I wrote earlier in the week about the graffiti in the south end of town last weekend, two of you commented in the Eye that the graffiti could be gang related.  At the Wesleyan Potters this week, staff reported that several groups of teenagers walked into the Pottery for no apparent reason or were seen attempting to cut through the back yard from Birdsey to South Main late in the evening.  Not in itself reason to panic -- but the staff befriended one of these groups of kids and after giving them an impromptu pottery lesson,  asked the kids if they knew anything about the graffiti that appeared on the Pottery building.  The kids asked what the graffiti looked like and then responded "If we tell you, will the spray painters find out who ratted them out?"   Despite assurances, the kids declined to give any information but said they would think about it.  If the kids know who is doing what,  perhaps the police, too, could find out easily? 

Friday, August 29, 2008

An historic evening

I've never before considered getting together with friends and neighbors to watch the acceptance speech of a Presidential candidate. I'm sure such things have happened before, with political junkies and party insiders, but I think the kind of event I attended last night was happening all over the country (I know for a fact that Middletown's Democratic Town Committee hosted an event at Wesleyan's USDAN center for students - an event, which many say, would not have occured when Doug Bennett was president).

I was fortunate enough to be invited to Bob and Maria Holzberg's house in Middletown, along with a group of like-minded supporters of Barack Obama. I found myself, along with the people in the room, applauding the TV screen after the speeches.

We had regular phone reports from Jen Alexander, who was in Mile High Stadium in Denver (though she was actually outside Mile High Stadium for three hours with ten thousand people in line, waiting to get into the packed arena, and eventually got in before Obama spoke), and her phone calls were giddy with the excitement of being in the mayor's suite (Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, formerly a Wesleyan student and Middletown resident), with her family, witnessing the historic event.

For his part, Obama gave the speech of a lifetime, shedding the dreadful history of the past eight years, and looking toward the future.

I left the Holzberg's with an Obama bumper sticker which I immediately placed over the Impeach sticker which has been on the car for three years.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Army’s Impossible Timeline Tells the Real Story

About 200 Middletown residents gathered in the auditorium at Mercy High School last night to hear the Army Corps of Engineers’ “revised” project schedule for the proposed Army Reserve Training Center. State Representative Ray Kalinowski moderated the meeting, pausing at the beginning to recognize the local, state and federal elected officials represented in the audience. Mayor Guiliano, State Representatives Gail Hamm and Joe Serra, and State Senator Paul Doyle were present, as were representatives from Senators Lieberman and Dodd and Congresswoman DeLauro’s offices.

David Dale (Deputy District Engineer, Louisville District, Army Corps of Engineers) presided over the Army’s power point presentation. This time it was slightly different from Colonel Landry’s “I-wear-the-uniform-for-the-nation” pitch we heard last week: the proposed Army Reserve Training Center will now look and feel like a corporate training facility, and while the “open and collaborative site identification process” has begun anew, possible sites have to be identified by September 7th, screened by September 17th, and publicly commented on by September 29th. The Site Identification Report will convene on October 1st, the list of viable sites are to be forwarded for NEPA review and Engineering Analysis by October 30th, and Right of Entry permits for environmental studies will be sought by November 7th.

Perhaps Mr. Dale’s soft Kentucky accent was supposed to lull us fast talking Yankees into submission (and I’m from Chicago originally, so I’m not even a real Yankee). Maybe because he sounded so genteel when he said, “we want to make sure we’re listening…that we get your input,” those in attendance were supposed to believe that public comment would actually influence a process that seems to have left the barn a long time ago. But, few were fooled, and it was a long night of tough questions with even fewer answers to suggest there is anything new to the process we’ve heard explained about 6 times now.


No longer comparing the proposed facility to Wesleyan (that happened at the July 31st press conference), the new proposed facility is smaller now because of Governor Rell’s decision to leave the 250th Engineering Company in New London. Repeatedly referred to as a “corporate training facility,” the proposed Reserve Training Center should now sit on about 25 acres, and ALL possible sites are supposedly again up for consideration. The peak personnel usage is about 665 reservists on a given weekend, with 70 full time personnel each work day during the week. The Army’s initial screening criterion for possible sites is as follows:

o Is the site in Middletown? (more on this in a minute)
o Is it available for purchase?
o Does is meet the size requirement of about 25 acres?

The new “open and collaborative site identification process” simply means that:

1. The public can suggest possible sites until September 7th
2. The Mayor has appointed a commission of community activists to screen possible sites and provide feedback to the Army [these individuals are Councilmen Klattenberg and Pessina, Arline Rich and Stephen Devoto (Westfield), Hugh Cox and Ralph Wilson (Maromas), and Nancy Kiniry (Conservation Commission)]. The non-Federal stakeholders liaison to the Army is Councilman Klattenberg.
3. There will be a city observer who participates in the environmental assessment of the Boardman Lane property when the Army looks for box turtles and sedge grass.

Mr. Dale was also careful to say several times that the Army would follow all NEPA requirements, that it would incorporate the requirements of the Clean Water Act even though it wouldn’t actually apply for a local permit under sections 404 and 401 (the Attorney General’s concern), and that if the Army doesn’t stick to its schedule, the entire project could be cancelled.

Concerned residents asked questions for a full two hours after the Army’s 20 minute presentation. The major question still centered on the Army’s interpretation of the BRAC requirement to build in Middletown; while Mr. Dale conceded that there are regional differences in the BRAC language, the Army’s legal opinion is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The Army’s specific legal opinion WILL NOT be shared with the public, even under Attorney General Blumenthal’s Freedom of Information Act request, and Mayor Guiliano commented that it will take an act of Congress to get the Army to change its opinion, so Middletown might as well just accept that the base HAS to be in our town.

Representative Kalinowki observed that the Army’s schedule is extremely aggressive, and he wondered how “locked in” the Army is to that schedule. Mr. Dale’s response was that it depends on how much of a possible delay and for what reason. Basically, the Army COE has to demonstrate that it has a plan that gets a reserve center, no wait, a corporate training facility built by March 2011 (but they really have until September 2011).

When asked if brownfields will be considered as possible sites, Mr. Dale said that they can be considered, but that brownfields represent a challenge to the budget and the timeline. Specifically, it takes time and money to clean up a brownfield, and both of those items will come out of the allotted budget and timeframe for the entire project. Mr. Dale’s conclusion? “I wouldn’t say it’s a priority [to build on a brownfield], but it’s a great solution set.” He also commented that the purpose of BRAC was not to clean up brownfields.

Mr. Dale was asked point blank if the Army COE would be bound by the Inland Wetlands Commission. His answer: “we’re going to comply with the Clean Water Act, but will we be bound by Inland Wetlands? No.”

Stanley Welch, representing Congresswoman Delauro (who’s in Denver with all our other Democratic elected State Officials), jumped up to comment that the Congresswoman has specifically asked the Army to address the BRAC interpretation issue as well as the permitting issues (Clean Water Act, Inland Wetlands, etc.), but that she hasn’t received any answers to her questions yet. State Senator Doyle commented that the Inland Wetlands Commission is a state function that has been delegated to the municipal level, but that Attorney General Blumenthal’s position specifically requires the COE to respect and abide by these regulations. Mr. Dale’s reply: “We’ll deal with your issues in a collaborative manner.”

Arnold Dalene, a resident from Old Farms East, commented that the paramount issue IS the legal interpretation of the BRAC language: for the environmental assessments of the Boardman Lane property to march ahead on a potentially flawed assumption (that the base must be in Middletown) and on such an aggressive schedule, the only outcome can be a bad product. Mr. Dalene then asked specifically for a meeting to occur by next week between the Army and relevant elected officials to determine once and for all the correct interpretation of the BRAC language. Mr. Dale’s reply: “Our schedule is aggressive, but not tight. We don’t want to short circuit the process and have a bad product at the end.”

Another resident, Virginia (I didn’t catch her last name), told Mr. Dale that he had “a bad attitude – it’s your way or the highway.” She told Dale that it seems like the Army does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it (loud applause from the crowd), and she asked if the residents “really mean anything to you [the Army]?” She went on to state: “we’re paying for this thing that we don’t want – do you get that?” Dale could only reply, “yes, ma’am.”

Cathy Branch Stebbins, a Westfield resident, told Dale that Middletown’s perception of the Army is an entity that takes land, contaminates it, then walks away (referring to the Mile Lane property). She commented that it seems like the same process is happening again, on top of the fact that Middletown already has an unfair tax burden: “If you’re going to railroad your schedule on this community and have us feel warm and fuzzy about it, that’s not likely.” Stebbins then asked Dale and the Army to “be the heroes we think you are,” and add value to the community by picking a site that worked for everyone, and/or by building in a location that could also serve as a community center for a town that can’t afford to build its own.

A letter was read from a CT reservist who couldn’t attend the meeting because of her duty schedule: she would love to drill in Middletown rather than drive 100+ miles to her drill location. She also spoke of “life-saving training” that reservists need, and how unfair of the community to take a NIMBY approach. Another individual spoke up for the sanctity of due process: the Boardman Lane site is private property and no one can tell the owner he can’t sell to whomever he wishes for whatever purpose. Because the property is zoned industrial, there is nothing anyone should be able to do to prevent the sale from going through and the base being built.

The Eye’s own Ed McKeon commented that this isn’t a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue, nor is there any question about Middletown’s support for our troops. He stated that there IS much interest for a final determination of the BRAC requirement, and he asked the audience if anyone was representing the Governor’s office. He wondered where the Governor is, and why she would reduce the facility size (effectively requiring the search process to start over) but then not get involved to help direct the search.

I, as a veteran myself, asked to watch the flag waving: it’s not the fault of Middletown residents that the Army COE has a tight schedule, nor should we be made to feel guilty that the state has chosen to let reserve units reside in aging facilities. The timeline issues are the Army’s problem with Congress and the BRAC legislation, and the town should not have to suffer a rushed decision making process to meet an arbitrary deadline. I also asked specifically IF Boardman Lane ends up as the final site, and IF there is still extensive blasting to construct the facility, will the Army pay for pre-blast inspections on the 100+ homes within 2000’ of the blast site? The answer was yes. I also referenced Fort Detrick, MD’s issues with trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser for engine parts, getting into wells outside the base, and asked if the wells on Boardman Lane and vicinity were in danger of being similarly contaminated. Mr. Dale responded that it isn’t the Army’s policy to contaminate anything, and that there are specific containment systems in place to prevent such occurrences. I asked why he would even consider a site that is Middletown’s 5th most important wetlands if there is even a risk of contamination, and he repeated that it isn’t the Army’s intent to contaminate anything.

Katchen Coley, one of Middletown’s leading environmentalists, asked if the Army will work closely with the State to accommodate Inland Wetlands requirements, and she also asked what construction standards the Army will use to build the reserve center (will the best of new construction standards be used, will pervious materials be used to pave, etc.?) Mr. Dale replied that this will be a LEED Silver project (a rating designation addressing six major areas — sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and the innovation and design process. Beginning in fiscal 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required all vertical construction projects with climate-controlled facilities to achieve a LEED-New Construction Silver rating.)

Catherine Johnson commented that “we’re the United States of America, and we can do things now,” as she told Dale he should want to make this project “disappear” given the objections he’s encountered thus far. She talked about ways to reduce the effective footprint of the facility, and she wondered out loud why the mayor hadn’t included anyone with construction experience on the town’s new site selection commission.

Bill Dougherty, a Bell Street resident, asked WHEN the Army’s legal opinion was rendered, and why it conflicts with the November 2006 Army letter to the city that inquired after land in Middletown OR within 20 driving miles. Mr. Dale replied that the November 2006 letter had been a mistake: that approach is normally taken for “regular” reserve centers, not BRAC mandated facilities. Mr. Dougherty also asked when the Army’s last contact with P&W officials was, stating that he had new information that P&W was willing to reopen discussions regarding the nature of the contamination on the property.

Councilman Pessina asked the Army to sit with the Governor’s office to discuss the funds available for brownfield cleanup. Councilman Roberts suggested the Pratt & Whitney site (as a follow on to the reminder that there are state funds available for brownfield clean up purposes), and also asked about the Mile Lane site. He asked if the Army had to clean up that site before it was returned to the town (Dale’s answer was yes), and if so, why those funds couldn’t be used to just clean up the site for re-use as the new Army Reserve Base…no…corporate training facility. Mr. Dale commented that all sites are again possibilities (if they meet the 3 initial criteria), and that Mile Lane will certainly be looked at again.

At that point, more than 2 hours of questioning and bantering back and forth had happened, and everyone looked, frankly, well, exhausted. Then again, that’s normally what happens when 2 parties are talking past each other and not TOO each other. There wasn’t anything new the Army COE told us, other than the fact that there’s very little time left for “public comment.” At one point, the program manager for the environmental assessments was discussing the upcoming investigations his team would be conducting, and his rather casual comments, when added together, were the most telling of the evening:

o “We always take into consideration state-listed species of concern”
o “It’s a point of discussion we’re [the Army] going to have to have…if the box turtle and sedge are found on the property, does that mean the property automatically falls off the list of possible locations? We’re going to have to discuss that.”
o “The box turtle is quite ubiquitous in the Northeast. (meaning existing or being everywhere at the same time : constantly encountered) It’s a state species of concern because it’s at the northern end of its range up here. That’s not the same thing as being on the federal endangered species list.”
o “Yes, environmental studies are going forth for the Boardman Lane property because we have to get those done before winter. No, there are no other environmental studies happening on any other property because we don’t know what the other viable properties are yet.”

So, what can you Yankees conclude? (remember I’m not a real one…I’m just a groupie) It sounds good to say that the site selection process has started over, and you can even suggest sites to Middletown’s Bill Warner ( or the Army’s Todd Hornback ( But Boardman Lane is still the Army’s primary object of interest, even though the property is 88 acres when the Army only needs 25. There’s a lovely commission now, with really, really, really, really excellent people on it (Catherine Johnson’s assessment), but if they tell the Army it’s Mile Lane or the P&W site or nothing, and the Army doesn’t like either choice, what happens then?

And for the last time…this isn’t about NIMBY, it isn’t about a private person selling property to a private person and that whole process being subject to the town’s planning and zoning, Inland Wetlands control and tax process, and it has NOTHING to do with Middletown’s gratitude towards citizen-soldiers or any other vaguely sounding patriotic theme. This is about the stewardship of finite resources: our tax dollars, pristine open space, and the relationships that govern our everyday lives. You and I are the customer in this relationship: Middletown is OUR town, OUR tax dollars will pay for this reserve center, and we have a responsibility to proceed in a way that protects and preserves OUR community as we prefer it to be. Why would we prefer to call this Army Reserve center a corporate training center when it is clearly not that? It will become FEDERAL property, it won’t support Middletown’s tax base, and in 10 years, it could become a live fire training facility if that’s what the Army wanted it to be.

So let’s just tell the truth here. The Army can’t possibly conduct a brand new search in the short time it has given itself. That the investigations of the Boardman Lane property continue on outside the new search process is further proof of this fact. That the previous site selection process excluded some site options because the Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) listed species of concern, but then settled on Boardman Lane DESPITE the presence of similar issues is also proof that the Army only focuses on what makes a convenient argument at the moment.

Something has to give here: I can only hope it’s not us caving to the Army’s blustering about our citizen-soldiers not getting their modern training facility. The Army’s construction schedule can’t be more important than a careful and deliberate selection process that makes the best choice possible rather than the easiest choice possible. Madame Governor: you thought you were being helpful by giving the Army more choices, and maybe that will turn out to be the case. We’ll know on October 30th when the Army forwards its site list, but by then, it will be way too late to “discover” the Army really didn’t go back to the beginning after all.

Dancing Cycles

This was sent to me tonight, looks like a great event to watch and an even better event to be part of!

Hello Cyclists!
I want to extend one more invitation to join our wheelie performance. It is part of tomorrow's "Common Moment" for incoming Wesleyan students. We will rehearse 6 - 7 pm on Andrus Field and then perform around 7:30. The more the merrier, so if you have friends that want to jump in, please bring them along! 

Thanks so much~ Margot

Margot Greenlee
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

Reflections on Denver

Doings in Denver, Part 4

Photo: Listening to Bill Clinton at the Pepsi Center

Back in 1988, when I was 22 years old, I went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, GA. For those who were in Middletown at the time, you might remember the 39% of the local vote that went to Jesse Jackson -- which led to Mark (my spouse) being a delegate for Jackson from our region.

Here's what I remember from the 1988 DNC -- it was a circus of special interest groups, with everyone wearing their labor union or political cause on their sleeve -- literally -- and the sense that the real business of the event was the trading of turf and chits between these groups. It felt like state politics and local issues -- potholes if you will -- were the main issue at hand.

Things couldn't be more different in Denver in 2008. Instead I feel a sense of hopefulness and energy from the crowd -- there is a feeling that we are here to exercise our creativity and intelligence, and that the stakes are very high for the future of our country. I'm sure it must look a little trivial from a distance, but the focus on transit, recycling, and alternative energy have awakened a conscience that is anything but cynical among the participants in Denver. It feels like we are proving to ourselves that we are not the hapless victims of a declining America. It feels like things could actually change, idea by idea.

I should say that in reality, I'm very much on the edges of things here, since I've been spending more time with our family friends than in the politial scene. But anytime you set foot in the downtown, the sense of purpose and debate is tangible and very interesting.

One of the things that makes this convention so substantial is the series of roundtables that have brought together innovators from various fields -- Mark got to help with a few of these, on the topics of energy, international relations and philanthropy. So it's more than just funny hats and rah-rah slogans. There is real connection happening here.

And there are plenty of opportunities to appreciate the creativity of Denver -- like the parking meters that encourage people to give their spare change not to the panhandlers (there are some) but to social service programs.

I have a whole slew of photos and ideas to bring home -- maybe I'll get them up on flickr so that I don't overly tax the Middletown Eye!

In your cups

I really hate to start a new semester as the neighborhood scold, but for some reason, this really irks me.

Wesleyan students have begun to trickle back to campus, and get-to-know-you, and great-to-be-back parties have already spilled from the frats to the streets. The evidence: plastic red beer cups.

On my walk down High Street this morning, I noticed dozens of scattered red plastic cups up and down a few blocks between William and Court Streets. I have no worry that Wesleyan grounds crews will clean up the cups, as they always do.

What bugs me is that some Wes students, who are otherwise so enlightened, so environmentally-concerned, so well-educated, and so socially-conscious, can be so inconsiderate as to drop the cups in the first place, knowing that someone else will have to pick them up.

So here's the challenge, Wes students:

- When you drink from a plastic cup, find an appropriate receptacle in which to dispose it
- Lobby the university to have more trash barrels (and maybe recycle bins) around campus
- Organize a cleaning party after each of your parties so someone else doesn't have to clean up you mess.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Give us an inch and we'll take a Mile

Jen Mahr will file a full report and analysis of the public meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed Army Reserve Training Center, tomorrow.

Two important points emerged after the Army promised to have an open process which will involve residents. One, the Army will not share it's legal opinion about why Middletown must be the site for the Army Reserve Training Center. Second, while the Army Corps promises to work with the town's Inland Wetlands and Waterways Commission, they will not apply for a permit to work, nor will abide by any such permit.

In the course of public testimony, it became clear that the Army would search for sites only in Middletown, and might consider brown field sites. Late in the questioning, the Army talked about the former Nike base on Mile Avenue. The site is pledged to the city, which plans to build a fire station and training center there. However, the property has not transferred, and the Army promises to remediate it before transferring it to the city.

Under the circumstances - still owned by the feds, a site of the right proportions that the Army Corps says will be remediated anyway - I stood and suggested it be put immediately at the top of the site selection list.

After the meeting the mayor spoke with me and explained that the Mile Lane site would not be considered, because the state has promised to fund the fire station to the tune of $9 million. If the fire station could not be built on Mile Lane, the city would also have to fund the purchase of an alternate site. In addition, the Mayor said the location is perfect for fire safety coverage in a section of town which needs it, particularly with a new High School.

(More opinion on the meeting at Caterwauled)

Henry working on the MTA

Interesting article this quarter in Connecticut's history magazine, The Hog River Journal, on the life and oeuvre of Henry Clay Work, who was born right here in Middletown.

There is a statue to commemorate the composer and his work on the South Green (Union Park), but interesting information in the story about history of that statue, and others, which have since disappeared.

Work was born in a house on Mill Street, which still stands. He wrote well-known, and well-loved songs like Grandfather's Clock and Marchin' Through Georgia, though not while he was living in Middletown.

One fact the story in the Hog River Journal neglects one story about Work's place in popular music. The tune for his song, The Ship That Never Returned, was borrowed by the composer of the song The Wreck of the Old 97, which when recorded by Texas classical music singer Vernon Dalhart, in a Southern tenor, became the first 1,000,000 selling record in recording history (the other side of the record was The Prisoner's Song, which was the real hit). The Wreck of the Old 97 has been recorded by hundreds of singers, including a popular version by Johnny Cash. But it became a top ten hit when used as a campaign song for a socialist candidate for mayor, with new lyrics written by folkies Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. The Kingston Trio took that song and made it a top-ten hit called "M.T.A"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trust, but Verify

Commentary, by fishmuscle

The army is beginning a new and improved site selection process this week, for a training facility which will need only about 25 acres, instead of the 45 acres needed earlier.  Colonel Landry, in his visit to Middletown last week, promised that this would be an open and collaborative site selection process. According to the Army's latest announcement of this week's meeting (Wednesday, 7PM, Mercy High):
The Army is requesting site suggestions from community members, city officials and state agencies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website will accept site recommendations for the project. 
The Army is asking community members to recommend sites and comment by Sept. 29.
This is an encouraging change from the two previous site selections, which ended in failure. The citizens of our city should trust the Colonel's word that under his new leadership, we will not be subjected to another closed and uncooperative site selection process.  We should trust that this time, the community will be a partner with the army in choosing a site that is best for the Military and Middletown.  We should trust, but we should verify that his actions reflect his words. 

The smaller size requirement for the training facility site now opens up many more possibilities in Middletown.  The image above shows in blue all of the parcels of greater than 25 acres. Although most of these are likely not for sale and/or unsuitable for a training facility, large lots are found throughout town.  All of Middletown's neighborhoods need to be engaged from the start of this new site selection process. Community members should offer suggestions and advice to the Army as they decide what to do with our community's land.  It is then up to the Army to demonstrate that this community input is given serious consideration as they move forward.  

Come to the Public Hearing this Wednesday at 7:00, at Mercy High School, 1740 Randolph Road.
At Wednesday's meeting will be Mr. David Dale, top civilian in the Louisville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Diane McCartin, Middletown project manager. State Rep. Ray Kalinowski will be the moderator of the meeting. Mr. Dale will give the Corps' presentation, in which he will present the revised acreage requirements, the new project timeline, and the new site identification process. There will then be a Q&A opportunity for the public.

The sound of meetings

Credit and kudos to the Middletown Department of Planning, Development and Conservation for a new effort to post audio of "meetings that routinely record their meetings."

Those committees include: Planning and Zoning, Zoning Board of Appeals, Inland Wetlands and Water Courses, and Redevelopment Agency.

The audio files will be available online as MP3s. To hear a sample, go here.

The files will be posted alongside the minutes of the meeting, and will likely be kept available online for 90 days, with archived material available on CD, for a nominal fee.

A few suggestions while we begin to walk down this path:

- Audio files should be made available as soon as they are able to be compressed and transferred. This is a process that can take as little as a few hours. This valuable information should not have to wait until minutes are transcribed and posted.

- Audio files should be made of every committee meeting. This is a lot of recording and file compression, but certainly essential meetings like Common Council and the Board of Education should be posted and available.

- Committee members and commissioners should be given a refresher on how to use microphones so that the entirety of the meetings is recorded. Many commissioners have very poor mic technique, and can barely even be heard in the meeting rooms.

Grafitti Vandals on the Move

In July, Jen Alexander reported in the Middletown Eye that graffiti has been an ongoing problem in downtown Middletown.  This past weekend the paint spray vandals were roaming in the south end of town.  Marking their territory, these hoodlums sprayed five pointed stars, making it easy to recognize their graffiti.  I got a call on Sunday morning that the back of the Wesleyan Potters building had been sprayed.  On my drive over there, I spotted stars sprayed on new garage doors of a private home on Birdsey Avenue and I noticed that the Wilcox Apartment Building on Pamecha Avenue had also been hit.  When I got home, my husband pointed out that our sidewalk had been sprayed with a star as well during the night.  After talking to several people we have deduced that this graffiti work (clearly ugly, not art) happened after 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.  

I also have to comment that the city promptly cleaned off the graffiti  painted on the McCarthy Park sign in the last month --- and the many layers of graffiti that were making the stop sign in front of my house unreadable, finally got cleaned off in the last couple of days.  Again, as Jen said last month, if you see suspicious activity or spot new graffiti, call the cops.  

Monday, August 25, 2008

Relax Your Mind (for one night)

Don't worry - the picture is not one of a new weapon, it's a flute. If you head over to Middletown's South Green for the Summer Sounds concert this Tuesday evening (8/26), you'll hear one of this area's finest practitioners of the instrument performing alongside 4 of his good friends. Peter Standaart, who's been teaching students at Wesleyan for several decades, is that flautist and he's quite an impressive musicians. The ensemble, known as Five In Time, also features Libby Van Cleve (oboe), Thomas Labadorf (clarinet), Rebecca Noreen (bassoon) and Robert Hoyle (French horn), will play contemporary classical music and more from 7 p.m. until (approximately) 8:30 p.m.

It's a bit of a departure from the usual Summer Sounds fare and that's okay. Stephan Allison, coordinator for the Middletown Commission of the Arts, has expanded the offerings this summer and reaction has been quite positive. The concert is free so bring your family and friends, your beach chairs and blankets, because the weather is supposed to be sparkling. And the music should sparkle too.

For one night, let the Army Base fiasco and the Democratic Convention take a back seat to the joy of artistic collaboration.

Talking to the wall on Wednesday

Duh! I feel stupid.

For a moment, I thought that this week's public opportunity to speak was going to be a real occasion during which all of our high-rolling Democratic political allies on the Army Reserve Training Center controversy would be present to hear the thoughts of the PUBLIC, along with those of the Army Corps of Engineers!

Silly me. Wrong again. Rosa Delauro, Susan Bysiewicz and Richard Blumenthal will all be in Denver at the convention, as delegates. Now it's clear why there was a meeting last week. One meeting for the important politicians, another, this week, for the public.

Hello, Jennifer, can you stick an Eye blog in front of the CT delegation on Thursday morning? Paste it to the bottom of a bowl of red, white and blue M&M's.

Sure, we'll see our town council members, Democratic and Republican, and maybe even some of our state reps, but the faces which draw the cameras (or the faces drawn to the cameras), will be at the Pepsi Center tossing confetti.

The week ahead: 8/25 to 9/1

Welcome new Wesleyan students!
Tuesday, all over town
Dazed and confused 18 year olds, accompanied by wistful parents, descend on our city.  The former will begin their transformation into confident Middletown residents, the latter will head back home with tears of relief and sadness in their eyes.  

There are two public meetings this week. Both are about land use in Middletown, and both are happening on Wednesday at 7:00 PM. The P&Z meeting has been scheduled for months, and includes a public hearing that could not be rescheduled on short notice.  Thus, the Planning and Zoning elected commissioners and the Planning and Zoning city staff will not be able to attend the Army hearing. 

Planning and Zoning Commission

Wednesday, August 27, 2008- 7:00pm - Council Chambers
  • Public Hearing- Proposed four (4) lot resubdivision of the property of Stephen G. and Barbara Borrelli located on Fairchild Road at the end of the cul-de-sac and adjacent to the Cavalry Cemetery to be known as Borrelli Acres.
  • Public Hearing- Proposed Special Exception to construct fifteen (15) multi-family dwellings on the east side of Jackson Street adjacent to Newfield Street (Rt. 3) to be known as Acheson Woods II.
  • Request for reduction of the cash bond for the Arbutus Estates Subdivision located at 1111 Arbutus Street.
  • Request for reduction of the cash bond for the Liberty Hill Subdivision located off Plumb Road.
  • Request for G.S. 8-24 Review for the purchase of 131 and 155 Wadsworth Street by the city from the State of CT Department of Children and Families.

Armed Forces Reserve Training Facility
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 7:00
Mercy High School Auditorium, 1740 Randolph Road
This meeting will be moderated by State Legislator Ray Kalinowski. It will be a public hearing, members of the public are invited to speak regarding the proposed training facility.

It's a Middletown issue

While there's no ignoring the fact that the placement of the proposed Army Reserve Training Center has elicited a NIMBY (not in my backyard) effect, drawing protest most vociferously from those adjacent to the sites, it's not only a Westfield issue, or a Maromas issue. It's a Middletown issue.

Middletown's a big city, from the standpoint of square miles (42 square miles, in fact), so a complex being built in Westfield might almost seem like a problem in another town from the perspective of someone living on Broad Street. Just as the problem of drugs being sold on Grand Street might seem like someone else's problem to someone living on Saybrook Road.

The truth is, of course, that these are all Middletown issues. School issues are important even to people with no kids in school. Development issues are important to folks living in remote cul de sacs. Open space issues are important even to those who never venture into the woods.

And so it is with the Army Reserve Training Center. Somehow (and this is a mystery no one's been able to clear up), Middletown got tagged in the BRAC legislation as the place where the center is supposed to be built, if a suitable site can be found. So the Army Corps of Engineers began to explore the options, and found the neighbors weren't thrilled.

Beyond the effect on traffic, property values and lifestyle, the proposed center is an imposition on a city which already carries more than it's share of "off the tax list" property burdens. If the Army comes to town, some large parcel of land will be stripped off the tax roll. And the federal government, unlike the state, doesn't even make the pretense of paying a "payment in lieu of taxes," otherwise known as PILOT. Of course, the state has rarely paid it's full share of the promised PILOT fees. Leaving you and me to pick up the slack in property taxes.

What it means is that the state has promised to pay a fee for the land used for Connecticut Valley Hospital, and it hasn't. So a tax burden that was supposed to be shared by all residents of the state, is imposed on those of us who live in Middletown.

If the Army Reserve Training Center gets built here, the town (that's you and me, again) will have to bear the burden for ongoing infrastructure costs, and residents of the rest of the state, and in fact the country, all of whom will share in the benefits of having a modern Army Reserve Training Center, and a well-trained Reserve, won't have to pay a nickel for ongoing costs.

So, our town property taxes will go up (and taxes are an issue that seem to go beyond NIMBYism), and continue to go up each year, and we will see no real economic benefit. The jobs? The increased business for local stores, restaurants, bars? Those are figments of the Army Corps' imagination. What's more, once the ARTC gets built, all local authority for what goes on there is deferred to the Army.

As the Army renews it's search for a suitable site in town, remember that wherever it gets built, you'll pay.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Climate Cycles

The Liz Lerman Dance exchange will be in town this week for a "movement happening" at Wesleyan University.  Cyclists of all types are invited to participate on any bicycle, tricycle or unicycle, there will be ice cream, flame throwers, and wheelies.  
Workshops will be held at Andrus Field, in the center of Wesleyan's campus.
Tuesday, August 26, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Thursday, August 28, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
The performance will be on Friday at 7:30.

The Dance Exchange's previous projects in Middletown have been extremely successful. In early 2006, they presented the world premiere of Ferocious Beauty: Genome, at Wesleyan, which was a critically acclaimed collaboration between molecular geneticists and dancers. Last spring the Dance Exchange participated in the Feet to the Fire Festival in Veteran's Park, which brought together music, arts, a farmer's market, dancers and cows to bring attention to the issue of global climate change.  
This event is also part of the Feet to the Fire project.

Hobnobbing on the mansion lawn

I arrived with my sons at the annual Open Air Market and Festival at the Wadsworth Mansion only to find that after a week of vacation in Maine, my camera battery was dead.

Thank goodness for a phone with a lousy camera built in (or is it a camera with a lousy phone built in).

This annual event is always one of my favorites, but has been a rain attractor for the past couple of years. Despite the arrival of a few ominous clouds late in the morning, the day was glorious, and people flocked to this gathering of local farmers, organic farmers, craftspeople, artists, musicians, bakers, cheesemakers and good food producers of all kinds.

I tried salsa, balsamic vinegar, jams, bread, cheese and honey, while bumping into many friends and acquaintances (several of whom were complimentary of the Eye!)

After a medley of hits from The Wizard of Oz, the boys and I found a shady spot in which to devour some Italian ice.

Army Reserve Training Center meeting venue change

Mercy High School
Wednesday August 27
7:00 pm

New bookstore on Main Street opens

The Book Bower has opened in Main Street Market.

Linda Bower’s book store is now open on the lower level of Main Street Market. This is exciting news for Middletown not only because we have gained another independent book store, but also because the Book Bower is a green business! The Book Bower buys and sells used books, which is a form of recycling and waste reduction in itself. In addition to that the store owner Linda Bower has made green business a priority by installing carpeting made out of recycled plastic bottles and obtaining web hosting from a server powered by wind energy. This sets a wonderful example for Middletown, as does our support when we patronize the Book Bower and other green businesses. Use your buying power to support green enterprises in Middletown.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Inside the Pepsi Center

"Doings in Denver" Part 3

After two days of stuffing envelopes and running errands in the back rooms of Denver's Convention machine, some of my family members got to see the front of the house during a VIP sneak peak at the Pepsi Center, where the convention will actually take place.

As far as I can tell from their photos, it's classic democratic blue, with enough sound and video technology to power 5 rock concerts.

There are lots of spaces for the press, both inside and out. Workers are still putting the finishing touches on most areas.

They found the Connecticut seats, stage right and about half-way up. Here's Maggie standing at the microphone where our state's delegates will cast their vote for Obama.

Our hotel is pulling out all the stops. They just stopped by and replaced all the multi-colored candies with red-white-and-blue. Tootsie Roll anyone?

Corps Starts Again--Hartford Courant Editorial

Today's Hartford Courant lead editorial (I've only changed the formatting)

Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this week that they would reopen the site selection process for a new regional Army training facility and promised to keep citizens and local officials better advised about the project's progress. Both are welcome developments.

In the interests of time and money — and avoiding public angst — we urge the Corps to go further, to wit:
  • Expand the search to sites outside Middletown. Col. Keith Landry, who is overseeing construction for the Corps, says Army lawyers interpret the federal law calling for the consolidation of Connecticut's Army bases to mean that the new base must be in Middletown. But that is an unnecessarily narrow reading of the legislation. The law stipulates the base should be located in Middletown if a suitable site can be found. That language clearly gives the Army some flexibility.
  • Consider brownfields. Army officials have ruled out abandoned industrial sites, saying they're too expensive to clean and develop. But former industrial sites can offer several advantages, including proximity to downtowns, transportation corridors, water systems and sewer lines.  By adopting a policy of reviving brownfields, the Corps would be working against sprawl and helping to preserve open space, an increasingly precious commodity in New England. Also, the state's brownfield remediation program could be used to clean a potential site for the training center. 
  • Heed the advice of state and local officials and citizens. In the past eight months, Corps officials have selected two sites. Both met strong opposition from neighbors and public officials. Corps officials deserve some credit for agreeing to step back from their plans, and for promising to keep the public better informed from now on. But they also need to listen and allow their selection of a site to be informed by the community.
  • Respect the authority of the local inland wetlands agency. This is a corollary to good listening. Corps officials appear to be balking at the notion of submitting their site plans to a local wetlands panel for approval. By going through the application process, however, Corps officials will be ensuring that the development of a new training facility is shaped by local priorities and concerns.
Corps officials say they're under a tight schedule for building this regional training facility. By listening and working more closely with the community, however, we suspect the Corps will enjoy a smoother, less troublesome site selection process.
Corps officials have tried it their way for the past eight months, only to end up almost where they started. It's time they tried a different approach.

After two fizzled trial balloons

Commentary from Paul and Karen Torop

The army's plan to go back to square one is a frustrating one for residents of Maromas and for all the environmentalists in Middletown and elsewhere who want to preserve the rural-residential character of this part of the city. It reopens the opportunity for the special interests who wish to use an army base as the thin edge of a wedge that can lead eventually to big box stores and condominiums in Maromas. (As the city Planner said back in the days when City Hall was openly in favor of the Freeman Road site: "When you bring sewer service to an area, you basically open it up for development.")

I wasn't impressed by Colonel Landry's presentation. He was not familiar with the conditions on the ground. Instead, he seemed to rely on professions of sincerity, his resumé, and an attempt to establish a male-bonding relationship with the mayor and members of the Council. He said that he had been told that there was an opinion by army lawyers that the BRAC legislation, which says that a base should be built in Middletown if (my italics) a suitable site is available, actually means that the base has to be built within the Middletown city limits!!! Attorney General Blumenthal implied that this "legal opinion" was ridiculous, but the colonel, who could not produce the opinion or even say that he had seen it, said that he was acting on the assumption that it was his duty to build the base within the city.

Other examples of lack of preparation: not having seen resolutions by the Council about the unsuitability of proposed sites and not being aware that the original letter to Middletown's mayor had asked for the recommendation of sites in town and nearby communities (not just in Middletown).

Parking study news

From the office of Bill Warner, Middletown Director of Planning.

The Downtown Parking Study (posted at ) was presented at a Common Council Workshop on August 4, 2008. At that workshop Councilman David Bauer made a great suggestion. He suggested a parking map be placed on the City of Middletown website.

Rick Kearney from my office did a great job creating a Downtown Middletown Parking Map. To access the Parking Map, go to <>. Click on the Services tab and the Downtown Parking Map tab to access the Google Map.

As a service to the residents and visitors, the Parking Map was created online for easy Internet access. Mobile device users and people using the free WIFI on Main Street will be able to find parking lots on their mobile devices and computers. The Downtown Middletown Parking Map gives users the option of obtaining directions to the public parking lots.

Downtown Middletown is attracting many first time visitors to the Main Street dining and entertainment venues who need to know where they can park their vehicles. We are encouraging businesses to suggest to their customers that they use the Downtown Middletown Parking Map to get directions to their business.

This is just the first of many new ways the Downtown Middletown Parking Study will make parking and transit easier and more efficient.

The meeting before the meeting

Now confirmed by four sources, it's clear that some of our town leaders met with our state and federal leaders and Army representatives in a "pre-meeting" in the Mayor's office before the "public" meeting with the same individuals, concerning the Army Reserve Training Center.

No one would deny the mayor and other leaders the opportunity to have a cordial introduction outside of the gaze of the press, but the pre-meeting and discussion went on long enough that the actual public meeting was delayed by 25 minutes.

So much for the declaration by city leaders that they want open discussions about the Army's plans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rosa Delauro on the meeting with Colonel Landry

(NOTE: The next meeting on the topic is Wednesday August 27, not Thursday as noted in this letter.)

New Haven, CT – Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-3) sent a letter to Army Secretary Pete Geren regarding several questions raised during the meeting Tuesday evening (August 19, 2008) about the Army Reserve Center between the United States Army Corps of Engineers, including, Colonel Keith Landry, Commander of the Corps' Louisville District, elected officials and members of the community. In advance of the August 27, 2008 public meeting on the Center, DeLauro requested legal clarification regarding the location parameters outlined in the BRAC language and previous correspondence with the Corps, the definition of suitable, and timing for determining a suitable location; as well as what environmental permits and approvals are necessary to move forward with the project.

"I was encouraged by Colonel Landry's willingness to more directly involve the City and the community in the upcoming site selection process," DeLauro writes in the letter. "At last evening's meeting several questions were once again raised, which I believe need to be fully addressed so that the community is more comfortable moving forward.

"It is absolutely critical that the community be fully involved in this process and I believe that this new approach will provide Middletown's citizens with greater input and help to avoid the community frustration that we have witnessed thus far."

Below is the text of the letter.

August 20, 2008

The Honorable Pete Geren


United States Department of the Army

Army Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20310-1600

Dear Secretary Geren,

Thank you once again for taking the time to speak with me on August 1st with regard to the proposed construction of an Armed Forces Reserve Center in Middletown, Connecticut. Last evening, Colonel Keith Landry, Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Louisville District, and several members of his staff attended a meeting at which Middletown's elected officials were able to ask several questions and clarify the process by which a site for this facility will be chosen. I was encouraged by Colonel Landry's willingness to more directly involve the City and the community in the upcoming site selection process.

As we discussed, Governor Rell determined that the 205th Engineer Company of the Connecticut National Guard will not be consolidated into this facility, and I understand that as a result of that decision new specifications for the project will be forthcoming shortly. It is also my understanding that because of this reduction it is probable that a significantly smaller acreage size will be required for the facility. This would likely open up several additional properties for consideration and, as such, Colonel Landry has stated that a new site selection process will begin as soon as the updated specifications are ready. The City of Middletown has always expressed interest in siting the Armed Services Reserve Center in Middletown. However, the site selected needs to not only meet the needs of the Army's specifications, but must also provide an economic benefit to the City while maintaining the quality of life of its residents.

At last evening's meeting several questions were once again raised, which I believe need to be fully addressed so that the community is more comfortable moving forward. As you may be aware, the team from Louisville will be in Middletown again next Thursday, August 27 for a meeting in which the public will be able to pose questions. I believe it would be beneficial to all of those involved if some of these issues were addressed prior to that meeting.

First, the BRAC language states that the consolidation and building of a Reserve Center in Middletown shall take place "if the Army is able to acquire land suitable for the construction of the facilities." In November 2006, Mayor Giuliano of Middletown received a letter (enclosed) from the Real Estate Division of the New England District of the Corps which states that "We are inquiring as to the availability of approximately 16-25 acres of land in the town of Middletown or within 20 driving miles of the town limits that could be used for an Armed Forces Reserve Center." In recent meetings, representatives of the Corps have explained that their mission states that the Reserve Center must be built within the city limits of Middletown. As I am sure you can understand, these varying positions have caused great confusion and raised the question as to whether or not this facility must be located in Middletown.

I am therefore requesting that you provide me with a legal clarification as to whether this Reserve Center is required to be located within the city limits of Middletown and, if so, a detailed explanation of how the Department of the Army arrived at that determination. Furthermore, your Department's most recent letter to me of August 4 states that, if a suitable site cannot be identified in a timely manner, "this significant construction project will be cancelled and the Reserve and Guard soldiers will remain at existing locations." Yet, it is my understanding the Army Corps must find a way to implement the BRAC recommendations. Can you please clarify what your legal interpretation of the law is, what the Army's definition of a suitable site is, and what steps you may take if a suitable site is not found in Middletown?

A second issue that I believe needs to be addressed is with regard to the permits and approvals which the Corps may need to seek prior to proceeding with the construction of this facility. It is my understanding that, under current federal law, the Corps would be required to seek both a Section 401 permit, issued by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, as well as approval from the local Inland/Wetlands Commission. Yet, during this process, there has been some debate as to whether or not the Corps would need to seek such approvals. I would ask that you confirm whether these approvals, under current federal statutes, are required.

As stated above, I am very encouraged by the direction in which Colonel Landry has proposed to move forward with the site selection process. It is absolutely critical that the community be fully involved in this process and I believe that this new approach will provide Middletown's citizens with greater input and help to avoid the community frustration that we have witnessed thus far. Again, I would ask that every effort be made to address these issues prior to the public meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 27th, as I believe it would be of great benefit to all of those involved if these questions were resolved before moving forward.

Again, thank you for taking the time to speak with me earlier this month. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff assistants, Allison Dodge at (203) 562-3718 or Daniel Zeitlin at (202) 225-3661 if we can provide you with any additional information. I appreciate your time and prompt consideration of this matter.



Member of Congress


Let's pretend things will be different


I regret not being able to attend the meeting with Colonel Keith Landry and the Army Corps of Engineers held Tuesday night, but from reading news accounts here, and here, and on this site, it seems like more of the same to me.

To begin with, the public was not allowed to speak. Most of us don't need to be reminded that it was the PUBLIC, and not any of the elected officials who were allowed to speak at the meeting, who first sounded the alarm about the Army's plans in Maromas. A plan that elected and business leaders endorsed. These leaders also initially supported the site on Boardman Lane, until the PUBLIC opposed both sites. And yet, the PUBLIC was not allowed to speak. Although the PUBLIC has the right to speak at any meeting of the Common Council (which, with quorum present, this officially was), according to the city charter. Someone should have asked Attorney General Dick Blumenthal for an opinion, although he jumped the line to speak during the PUBLIC's last opportunity for public comment. In the end the public needs the support of elected the Army plans.

Then the Army marches into town with a decorated colonel who declares that he wears the uniform "for the nation," and who, dressed strategically in combat fatigues, apologizes for Army closed press conference debacle. While the appearance of a decorated colonel indicates that the Army realizes how important the site selection is, it was yet another public relations event, long on promises, and short on detailed answers. How could the public doubt the word of a senior, bemedaled, war veteran. In the end, the Army made more promises about keeping residents informed and involved. Trust us, they assured the public, and the gathered elected officials. Unfortunately, trust must be earned, and so far, the Army has done little to earn it.

You'll notice that Col. Landry's consistent response was that the process would be open to residents, and yet when questioned his reply was as consistent - that he is following orders, and he would do what he was ordered to do, no matter what the residents, or elected officials decide.

To understand my own cynicism, you must know that my own trust of government and the Pentagon ended sometime around the secret invasion of Cambodia. And, for me, nothing in recent history improves that trust. No doubt, the men and women who serve in our National Guard and Army Reserve deserve our gratitude and support. Unfortunately the government and the Pentagon themselves, have been egregiously negligent in that support during the disastrous war in Iraq (lack of equipment, extended deployments, lack of medical, financial and psychological support, stop-loss orders). And now they have the nerve to turn to us and invoke the needs of the "citizen soldier" when they want us to build a training center on an site which is wrong for our city.

However, our own Middletown elected officials continue to baffle. After the Freeman Road controversy they passed an non-binding resolution with a list of alternative sites. (According to Councilman Daley this list reflects the preferences of the city - though the list was created by town hall staff after no public hearing or consultation with city residents). This resolution was passed at a public meeting (I was there and spoke against it) crammed with Freeman Road neighbors who were happy to hear about other sites. This resolution was not re-framed after the Boardman Lane discussions. And despite the pleas of our mayor and council members, they themselves did not seek public input when creating the list that is included in their hastily-passed resolution. It's time for them to reconsider that resolution, after consultation with residents from throughout the city.

And finally, Governor Rell, where are you? You change the marching orders without ever having a representative at any of the essential meetings. Your obvious lack of concern is bound to chip away at some of your teflon coating in this community.

Happily, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are not so easily placated by the Army's answers.

One final question. At next week's public meeting, will the Army send a senior officer to take the heat and provide answers? Or are senior officers only required when a Congress member will be at the meeting?

The Old Leatherman, part 3

How Green is Your Convention

Part Two of "Doings in Denver".

I knew that Denver had announced their intention to make the Democratic National Convention the first "Green" convention in I was expecting the recycling bins on every corner. I was expecting the local produce at catered events. But I was not expecting a wooden hotel room key, instead of plastic.

As far as I can tell, the local commitment to the environment is more than skin deep. Judging by the earnest lawn signs throughout town, wasteful watering of the grass is akin to parking your beat-up jalopy on the front lawn back east. And I'll post on another day about the incredible mass transit and the number of bikes and vespas on city streets. It's nice to see.

I confess that I'm a sucker for their pro-Downtown Denver campaigns. They've got one for the general public called "Elevate Your Urban", their pitch that life is more fun downtown (One poster promises "5 pm Salsa Dance Lessons, 7 pm Oysters on the Half Shell, 9 pm Cabaret and a nightcap"). And they have a website to encourage people to move to one of the 11 residential neighborhoods of downtown, called "Center Yourself".

They do make living downtown look fun. Here's a house that I spotted on a street similar to Grand Street in Middletown.

As far as politics go, the city is worked up into nearly a fever pitch as early convention events begin. A few of my family members were at a book signing with Nancy Pelosi when a group of boisterous protesters were ejected for suggesting that she should go back to Washington and impeach President Bush.

I, however, as a devotee of local rather than national politics,
was most excited about the meeting we caught on cable access TV which detailed the work of the local graffiti task force. Some issues are truly universal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Army apologizes and welcomes more public comment for its "new" site selection process

Once again, the Army Corps of Engineers is restarting the site selection process for the new Army Reserve Training Center it says must be built in Middletown. Col. Landry (District Commander, Army Corps of Engineers) and his project team were in town to apologize for the negative perceptions created by the Army’s July 31st press-only news conference, and to explain the new process the Corps wants to implement as it searches again for a “suitable” site in Middletown.

The cast of elected officials in attendance was impressively large: the Mayor and Common Council members, Congresswoman DeLauro, Secretary of State Bysiewicz, Attorney General Blumenthal, State Senator Doyle, and State Representatives Hamm and Kalinowski, to name a few. Senators Dodd and Lieberman sent staffers, and it was almost funny to watch everyone try to find a seat in the cushy chairs at the front of the Council Chambers.

It was NOT funny to be Col. Landry: he was in the proverbial hot seat, and to some extent, he took responsibility for a lot of things he had no control over. He’s been the District Commander for all of two months, which means he was coming to a new job just as the Corps announced the selection of Boardman Lane as the “preferred site.” Unfortunately for him, once you’re in charge, you get stuck with whatever your predecessor left you. In this case, he got handed a project in a town already riled up about the initial site selection in Maromas, with a Mayor and Common Council miffed about the Army’s perceived lack of cooperation in the site selection process.

So, as the meeting unfolded, Col. Landry was stuck literally between a rock and a hard place: he stood at the podium, facing a slew of elected officials and their questions, with a full audience of concerned residents and press members bringing up the rear. It is important to note that some sort of private meeting occurred BEFORE all the players made their way into the Council Chambers, so I can only assume that no one was totally blindsided by the questions or answers that came out during the more public gathering.

The Col. started his remarks with a list of reasons for his trip up from Louisville: mainly, that General Peabody (his boss) couldn’t come, and the July 31st press-only conference was “not the wisest thing to do.” Col. Landry took full responsibility for the “negative perceptions” created by that press conference, and stated forcefully that the Army doesn’t normally conduct business that way. He then explained that he was proposing a new, more transparent site selection process that would include more opportunities for public comment earlier in the process. Finally, he revealed that he received new orders on August 18th to construct a smaller facility (this due to Governor Rell reducing the number of units relocating to the new facility), and that the site selection process would begin over again since less total acreage was needed (he did not yet know the new acreage criteria). He ended with another apology for any hard feelings created and stated that he wanted to do his best to satisfy ALL the target audiences: the public, the town, the BRAC legislation, and, of course, the Army’s needs for training and national security.

Councilman Ron Klattenberg asked the first series of questions, going straight to the heart of the controversy: has there been a legal determination on whether or not the reserve center MUST be built in Middletown? If so, is that opinion available to the town or state’s legal resources for review? Col. Landry’s reply: having spoken to his lawyer before he left, the Army reads the BRAC language to mean within the city limits of Middletown. Councilman Klattenberg then asked what happens if no suitable land is found? The reply: the project doesn’t get built and the citizen-soldiers in CT lose out on a new, modern facility. Other information from this line of questioning: the original programmed amount (meaning how much money had been budgeted) was $68 million, but since the project scope has been reduced, the programmed amount will be as well. Col. Landry did say that brownfields could be considered as potential sites as long as his budget could handle the site purchase price, clean-up cost AND building cost (this is new…more on this later).

Congresswoman DeLauro and Attorney General Blumenthal jumped in next, specifically disagreeing with the Army’s interpretation of the “if the Army is able to acquire land suitable” BRAC language. The Congresswoman was unhappy with the “build it in Middletown or nowhere” answer, and the Attorney General repeated his concerns with the legal violations he says the Army committed in selecting the Boardman Lane site. The Col.’s reply: all concerns get looked at in great detail, we (the Army) hadn’t reached the stage of the process where those concerns are specifically dealt with, and “we will do everything we’re required to do by law.”

The Attorney General, not satisfied with that answer, commented that the timing of the particular steps was important, and he hoped that the Army “wouldn’t make that mistake again” (meaning that it wouldn’t pre-select a site without considering the various legal issues involved – the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, historical significance, etc.) Col. Landry replied that he didn’t think the Army made any mistakes, again stating that the Army had been in the process of reviewing all those concerns for the Boardman Lane property when the Governor changed the project scope.

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz spoke next, stating that the heart of the matter was a quick and definitive answer to the “does it have to be in Middletown” question. She worried over wasting everyone’s time, and pushed for the combination of organized resident groups’ input, the Governor’s leadership as the Commander-in-Chief, and the town’s preferences as the Army’s guiding principles for the next site selection process. Col. Landry replied that he had marching orders to build in Middletown, and that if he considered anything else (without authorization from his boss), he wouldn’t be doing his job. He committed to being “totally transparent to the community” to “find a site that the community is happy with and that the Army is happy with.”

State Representative Gail Hamm then asked what “cooperate with the city” really meant. Col. Landry replied by briefly explaining the site selection process: the Army Reserve says it needs a facility in a specific location to accommodate such-in-such, that requirement is passed to the Louisville Command, and they check their manuals for specific site requirements. The Louisville Command then identifies all properties that meet the following criteria: 1) is the property within the required geographical area, 2) is there suitable buildable acreage, and 3) is the property available for purchase. After a list of properties is complied that meets those 3 criteria, each property is considered more carefully (some properties may fall off the list during this process), and a rank ordered list of properties is generated. The Reserve Headquarters then evaluates and approves this list, and it’s sent back to Louisville (and the Mobile Command, which does the environmental investigations) for NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. If this analysis finds something that can’t be mitigated, the property falls off the list.
Representative Hamm interrupted this explanation to ask who gets to decide what “suitable” means? The answer: the Army does. Col. Landry went on to say that if a 2nd legal opinion determines the process can look OUTSIDE Middletown, he’ll do that once he gets new marching orders, and he hopes he would have the time to do this (he has to have a site selected by the end of October). Col. Landry also stated that he wants to start a new process to gather input/citizen feedback on the properties on the list AS those properties are on the list (not just at the end when one property is selected).

Rep. Hamm, clearly agitated, asked if this new process meant that the Maromas properties were back on the table. She was distressed that all the work in February and March to exclude those properties was all for naught, and she accused the city of taking the position that it wanted Maromas developed, so that’s where the city would direct the Army to look again. Councilman Gerald Daley interrupted her to say that she didn’t represent the city’s position, that the city had clearly outlined that position in the August 4th resolution, and what he wanted to know was whether or not the Army was subject to the Inland Wetlands Commission. The reply: that’s in a pending review, we’ll let you know. Attorney General Blumenthal jumped in immediately to comment that the State’s position was that the Inland Wetlands Commission has jurisdiction and that he would use legal action if necessary to ensure that review happened. He also stated that the Army needed a permit under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, and that previous Army statements had been interpreted to mean the Army wasn’t going to follow this requirement.

By now, Col. Landry was a little red in the face, and he responded to the Attorney General by telling him that he (Col. Landry) had been an Eagle Scout and is a “principled steward of the environment.” He insisted that he would “do everything the Army legal section tells him to do” and that he would follow all applicable federal laws.

The discussion then came back to the Freeman Road site, and it was determined that property would not be under consideration again because there was not a willing seller (remember the 3 initial criteria, and that the State has first right of refusal on the property if it goes up for sale).

Councilman James Streeto asked if the Col. had seen the Council’s August 4th resolution, the Col. said no, and the Councilman gave him a copy so the Army would know the town’s concerns over the Boardman Lane property. Councilman Grady Faulkner asked if the city would get better notification of the Army’s specific plans this time around, and Diane McCartin (the project manager) replied that there would be public comment earlier in the process. There were several quick questions about what would be on the base besides classroom facilities, and the answers: no live ammo, no weapons, no helicopter pad requirement, and some maintenance facilities for vehicles.

State Senator Paul Doyle then thanked Col. Landry for the previous day’s phone call apology (supposedly for shutting Doyle out of the July 31 press conference – remember that Doyle had called for an investigation to look into that incident). Senator Doyle said he’s taking the Col. at his word that more public comment would be considered, and that the mayor and city building department would be specifically involved.

Councilman Philip Pessina commented next that Middletown is a close knit community with high sensitivity to what happens to its property. Pessina reiterated his desire for an open process, effective communication between the Army and the city, and the Army’s careful consideration of citizen’s concerns.
Councilman Vincent Loffredo then read to Col. Landry the November 16, 2006, letter from Mr. Redlinger (the Army’s Real Estate person, who happened to be in the room) that asked the Mayor about properties in or within 20 driving miles of Middletown for a new reserve center. The letter also commented that the Army planned to ask the State of CT for other possible properties that could be used. Councilman Loffredo called this letter “shocking and disturbing” given the Army’s current position that the base MUST be in Middletown. Col. Landry responded with “I feel like my personal integrity was just insulted,” and Mayor Guiliano had to step in and “save” the Col. from the ensuring verbal scuffle. Councilman Loffredo explained he wasn’t trying to attack the Col., rather he (the Councilman) just wanted to clue the Col. in about the existence of the letter so there could be an explanation of why the Army’s position had changed. There was a brief flurry of consultation between the Army personnel, and Mr. Redlinger’s response was that the letter had been written BEFORE the Army lawyers gave their ruling that the site HAD to be WITHIN Middletown’s city limits.

Councilman David Bauer then asked that all public documents relating to the site selection process be forwarded for inclusion on the city’s special project website (no problem for the Army). Representative Kalinowski confirmed the August 27th public meeting is still happening and that the discussion would no longer center on Boardman Lane solely as the preferred site (the Col. agreed and stated that he should have the new acreage requirements by then). Councilman Earle Roberts said he’s looking forward to future discussions as the new process unfolds.

Then the Mayor introduced several key citizens and city officials sitting in the audience (Arlene Rich, Chairperson of the Westfield Residents Association; Katchen Coley, Environmentalist, Bill Warner, City Planning, Conservation + Development, Catherine Johnson, City Planner, and a few others) and noted these individuals are key resources for the city and should be for the Army as well. Mayor Guiliano closed with the prize-winning statement of the evening: “Had everyone stayed in contact with the Planning Department, you wouldn’t have stepped on some of the landmines you did.” Col. Landry could only reply that having been a combat engineer in Iraq, he knew exactly what the Mayor meant, and he appreciated the metaphor.

Thus the meeting adjourned and the press swarmed in and the whole thing was over.

Well, it’s not really over, is it? Sorry that the “play-by-play” summary was so long, but I thought it important to be as detailed as possible so you can’t accuse me of coming to conclusions not supported by the actual events. What are those conclusions? Well, it depends on whose perspective you care about…

From the Army’s perspective, the meeting was a chance to apologize and to explain what the “new” site selection process would be. OK, apology accepted. But, the only “new” part of the process was the promise to let the public comment on ALL the properties on the selection list as that list is being generated. The process itself is the same, and the Army is still saying it doesn’t investigate NEPA, historical and other legal concerns until one or two properties have been decided on. This timing is exactly what the Attorney General has problems with, and so it seems that issue remains a problem. And really, what does “public comment” mean for the process itself? Is this a nice way of saying the Army is listening to, but not hearing, resident concerns? Is it ever possible that public comment results in a property falling off the list?

From the town’s perspective, the Army has stated publicly that it is starting the site selection process again because the acreage criterion has been reduced. This means other properties not initially considered could now be considered, and the Mayor made sure to say that he expects the Army to work close with Bill Warner to select suitable sites (there’s that pesky word again…).

From the gaggle of other elected officials’ perspectives, everyone had a chance to raise specific constituent concerns, and I did get the sense that each official was personally interested, and not just grandstanding for the media or the 100+ residents sitting in the audience.

From the concerned resident’s position (that’s me, my neighbors, the Maromas neighborhood, etc.), I can’t say definitively that Maromas AND Boardman Lane are now safe. In fact, I fear the opposite is true. Col. Landry casually mentioned at one point that he has to do some environmental investigations on the Boardman Lane property BEFORE winter (and the box turtles become too hard to find…), so he’d be kind enough to let us know when personnel would be tromping around, looking for said turtles as well as sedge plants (both are species of concern on CT’s Natural Diversity Database). If the Army really is starting the selection process over again, why continue the in-depth study of the Boardman Lane property? If the acreage requirement has been reduced substantially, why waste federal funds on 88 acres if the Army doesn’t need but 20 or 25 acres?

Under direct questioning from Congresswoman DeLauro, who was reading from the Army’s own technical letter number 1110-3-49, Col. Landry agreed that Army policy directed him to “leave pristine areas untouched and minimize disturbance to wildlife habits,” to “give priority to and build on previously disturbed or damaged sites, and, where possible, restore damaged areas…” This would suggest a couple of things: first, the Army should RUN AWAY AS FAST AS IT CAN from pristine sites like Boardman Lane and Maromas JUST BECAUSE those areas are pristine, environmentally and historically important, and clearly not sites supported by the city’s elected officials. Don’t talk to me about whether those issues can be “mitigated” or not: the box turtle doesn’t want to hear that his preferred home can be moved just because some lawyer says so, and the 100+ homeowners within 2000’ of the proposed blasting zone on the Boardman Lane property don’t want to find out that “mitigate” means “sorry, we cracked your foundations and ruined your wells, oops.”

Secondly, the Army should jump at the chance to work with Governor Rell’s Office of Responsible Growth, as Secretary of State Bysiewicz has championed, especially if there might be state funds available to help with site cleanup (this would leave more money in the Army’s budget to purchase and build than if the Army also had to pay cleanup costs). So why, then, is the Army sticking stubbornly to the “must build in Middletown” mantra, and what is taking the legal review so long to come back? Who is going to be offended and sue if the site ISN’T in Middletown? Why can’t Governor Rell insist that the Army, the Justice Department and whatever other necessary entities figure this out, like, I don’t know, THIS WEEK, so we can all get on with whatever it is we’re doing?

Finally, I shudder to think that the Army really expects us to heed its threat to cancel the whole project if “suitable” land can’t be found in Middletown. Since when does the Federal Government NOT spend funds it ALREADY HAS to spend? We all know about the general willingness to spend money it DOESN’T have, so really, be serious. The clear path to finding a “suitable site,” and let’s agree that suitable means the site makes sense for ALL parties concerned (the city, the city residents, business interests, the Army’s interests, the box turtles’ interests…), is to quit arguing over the BRAC wording, let the newly proposed “task force” comprised of key Middletown citizens and city officials evaluate the possible sites based on the new acreage criterion, and then let the Army consider ONLY those properties. If the Army doesn’t like any of those choices, it can then work with Governor Rell’s office (who should by that time have her OWN possible statewide list) to consider additional sites outside of Middletown.

It’s August 20th, and there are 72 days left until Col. Landry’s supposed end-of-October deadline for site selection. If done correctly, there will be no need for in-depth environmental or historical studies because the “preferred site” won’t have any of those problems to begin with, and the pesky city residents (proud to be the “land mines” Mayor Guiliano referred to) will smile happily and boast patriotically about the new Army Reserve Training Center coming to their town.